I have a former student (I’ll call him Gabriel) who volunteers in my room every single day, without fail. He is in the fifth grade now, and I was his Kindergarten teacher. I also taught his younger brother, who is in 3rd grade, as well as his youngest brother, who is in Kindergarten. When Gabriel was in Kindergarten, he had extreme difficulty sitting still and focusing. I had many conversations with his mom and him about his behavior, but I also saw him make academic gains. All three boys are extraordinarily bright and love to learn, especially about dinosaurs. Their mom is pretty strict and pushes them to high expectations. All three are also extremely kind and compassionate with their peers.
He is not the first former student to volunteer – many students return to volunteer, and there are a few others this year who come almost every day. Gabriel, however, really wants to connect. He comes when students are at specialist and he helps me by preparing homework folders and setting out snack. I have come to depend on his help, and we chat as he helps. Usually, he tells me about a movie he has seen or a book he is reading. Sometimes, he tells me about things his friends are talking about or what they’re studying. Today, he told me that over the weekend, his dad showed him a movie called Desierto. I haven’t seen it yet, but I might now. He said that his dad wanted to show it to him so he would learn more about what it is like to try to cross the border from Mexico, since that is what his dad went through to get here. He told me that he learned about how many people die in the process and how there are racists who want to kill them. He said he is so grateful his dad made it. I said I am too, and I am sad there isn’t an easier way for families to live in freedom and with economic stability.
Unfortunately, I often have to cut Gabriel off mid-chat so that I can go pick up the students, and today was no exception. We were going to be gathering for cupcakes after returning because it was a student’s birthday and he brought treats for everyone. I saw the younger version of Gabriel come out as he half-whined that he wanted one too.
I thought this afternoon about the beauty of the evolving relationship I am enjoying with Gabriel. I have heard that having an adult they believe really cares about them at school can make a big difference in students’ long term success. It’s hard to know how we impact our students sometimes as teachers, and I’m sure there are visible and invisible ways it happens every day. I am glad that Gabriel feels comfortable in my room (he often reminds me when I need to leave to pick up the kids), wants to give back to help others, and knows that I care about what he feels and thinks.
As I look around my current group of Kindergarteners, I wonder which will want to volunteer when they’re in 4th or 5th grade, or perhaps even return to visit when they’re older and gone from our school. How will our relationships evolve over time? Who will move away? The length of our time together is a mystery, and I cherish each moment.